Grub Guide: Where And What To Eat In Downtown L.A.

One of our favorite parts of L.A. living is the diversity of the neighborhoods scattered across the Southern Cali sprawl. And while we can't get enough of the shopping and art all over Downtown L.A., the truth is that nothing beats the food and drinks amidst the skyscrapers and Staples Center. So, instead of hightailing down the Harbor Freeway and meandering around looking for the tastiest bites, we asked our go-to food guide, Natalie James from Fashion Intel, to dish on her favorite DTLA eats. From sweet treats to strong drinks, she's covered all the bases and passed on her expert tips for your next fab Downtown L.A. feast.
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The Lazy Ox Canteen
I like a place that champions itself as a "casual dining spot" but still serves up some major meals like seared beef tongue, braised rabbit leg, and pomme puree with Italian black truffles. The Lazy Ox Canteen reels me in every time with the promise of a savory dining experience. I have gushed over their juicy Lazy Ox burger accompanied by perfect fries and dipping sauce, and have been thrilled after just a few bites of their fried chicken. This is a great place to go if you want to order up a few beers and loosen your belt just a little. Interested in having juices beautifully drip down your chin and possibly on to your shirt? I recommend you pull up a chair at The Lazy Ox Canteen.
The Laxy Ox Canteen, 241 South San Pedro Street (at 2nd Street); 213-626-5299.
Coffee Bar
There are times when you simply need a place where you can drink something tasty and relax with friends; combined with a great space for some people watching and it is a guaranteed good time. There are many delicious cups of coffee being served Downtown, but if you want to feel like you're in the thick of it all, Coffee Bar serves up a great atmosphere on a bustling street. Now that summer is coming to an end, I am looking forward to switching up my usual order of iced Chai to a cup of piping hot Chai and cozying up on one of the patio benches. This is definitely one of the best chill-out spots in Downtown L.A.
Coffee Bar, 600 South Spring Street (at 6th Street); 213-327-1157.
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Starry Kitchen
When you work in Downtown, like I did for 6 years, a common question amongst yourself and your coworkers is "where are we going for lunch?" If you are located near Bunker Hill or find yourself in Downtown L.A. before 3pm, may I suggest you swing by Starry Kitchen? Once serving up meals as an underground kitchen in an apartment in North Hollywood, SK decided to go legit and Downtown was lucky to get them. With a rotating menu that you'll never tire of, you can look forward to sitting down to a freshly-prepared meal packed with bursts of flavor. For those who want a lighter meal, I recommend the Thai Cobb salad, which has been on their menu as of late. If you really want to pack a punch, order the protein (pork, chicken, Angus beef, curry tofu) plus one side (I suggest garlic noodles) and an order of the famous tofu balls. Add some Sriracha and I promise your taste buds will thank you.
Starry Kitchen, 350 South Grand Avenue; 213-617-3474.
'Lette Macarons
Macarons are blowing up and I doubt the backlash is coming any time soon. Nestled in the Little Tokyo Shopping Center, next to a Beard Papas and a frozen yogurt shop, is Paulette Macarons, which is home to colorful little bites of sweetness. Looking at the rows of freshly-prepped macarons is reminiscent of looking into a kaleidoscopic. Paulette's macarons are delicate upon touch but packed with such incredible flavor that you'll quickly become addicted. Favorites of mine include the raspberry, rose, and salted caramel, and for just $1.70 you can momentarily be taken away to France, the birthplace of macarons.
'Lette Macarons, 333 South Alameda Street Ste. 103 (at 3rd Street); 213-621-4457.
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Honda Ya Izakaya
The phrase "eat, drink and be merry" is taken very seriously at Honda Ya Izakaya. Izakaya in Japanese means "a place to eat and drink, sitting down, comfortably" so I know when I want to grub and knock a few back with friends, this is the place to go. Located in the Little Tokyo Shopping Center, you'd never see this place if someone didn't recommend it to you. Home-style Japanese food is where it is at and the menu boasts choices that will please your entire party with options like yakitori, ramen, sushi, and tempura. I'm partial to their savory yakitori because savory meats on a stick just feel so right. My particular faves are the pork belly, quail egg, and bacon-wrapped scallop. Add some onigiri (rice balls with assorted filling), and a round of Sapporo in frosted mugs, for good measure.
Honda-Ya Izakaya, 333 South Alameda Ste. 314 (at 3rd Street); 213-625-1184.
Nickel Diner
Nickel Diner is a no B.S. kind of joint—sitting down in what feels like an authentic diner, with real red vinyl seats and vintage fixtures, I am often motivated to keep it simple and order up a bacon burger and fries. On a recent lunch excursion with DJ Sosuperam, I was introduced to their avocado stuffed quinoa salad and I haven't been the same since—who knew such a beautiful and delicious salad was being made behind the counters of Nickel Diner? Last, but certainly not least, I need to show some love to their dessert selection. Lauded by the critics, both in print and on TV, Nickel Diner serves up a selection of sweets like a maple glazed bacon donut, homemade ding dongs, and peanut butter potato chip cupcake that will make you go weak in the knees. If you are too stuffed for dessert after your meal, you have to get one of their treats to go—trust me, you won’t regret it.
Nickel Diner, 524 South Main Street (at 5th Street); 213-623-8301.
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Bottega Louie
I consider Bottega Louie one of my Downtown go-to spots when I am craving gourmet deli dishes, beautifully-prepared desserts, or need to entertain someone’s parents from out-of-town. There is no denying the beauty of this market and restaurant or the energy you feel from the space on any given visit. Thanks to the high ceilings, you don't feel completely cramped when BL is packed from front to back. For a quick lunch, you cannot go wrong with picking up their tasty chicken curry salad and pairing it with freshly baked baguette. I recommend for the evening crowd to order up a freshly-chopped salad and pizza to pair with your wine. Above all else, always order the Portobello fries—they are a revelation!
Bottega Louie, 700 South Grand Avenue (at 7th Street); 213-802-1470.
The Gorbals
Bacon wrapped matzo balls. This is the dish that I often have to repeat when recommending a night of eating at The Gorbals. Located in the lobby of The Alexandria Hotel and owned by Top Chef-winner Ilan Hall, this restaurant has garnered a cult following from people who love good fun without pretension. Though The Gorbals is known to have an ever-changing menu with open suggestions from fans in their "bring it back" board, it seems like two of my favorites always stick around: bánh mì poutine and latkes with smoked applesauce. With a warm vibe and stiff drinks, it’s easy to spend a couple hours enjoying this cozy space, especially if you chose to make friends while sitting at the communal table in the middle of the restaurant. For up-to-date menu options, I recommend you read their blog like I do, because you never know when you'll want to drop $200 on an entire pig's head.
The Gorbals, 501 South Spring Street (at 5th Street); 213-488-3408.
Urbano Pizza Bar
This is one of the new kids on the block and I like what I’ve tasted thus far. Occupying the former Wolfgang Puck on 6th/Hope, Urbano is enticing crowds with a nice happy hour menu—$8 pizzas, $4 draft beer—but bringing people back with its stellar customer service and promising menu. I will frequent any place that serves up a perfect burrata and mixed heirloom tomato salad as Urbano did over this past weekend. Combine that salad with a decent thin crust pizza with toppings like fennel sausage, roasted artichokes, and Manila clams—not all at once, of course—and your evening just got a little better. Word on the street is that this week Ilan Hall, of The Gorbals fame, is going to be creating some new pizzas over at Urbano. I cannot wait! My guess is there is going to be lots of pork.
Urbano Pizza Bar, 630 West 6th Street (at Hope Street); 213-614-1900.
Mikawaya
If you’ve ever looked for ice cream at Whole Foods or Trader Joes, then I know you have seen the cream colored box that reads Mikawaya, packed with delicious mochi treats. Southern Californians should feel fortunate to have their very own Mikawaya shops, one in Downtown's Little Tokyo to be exact, because mochi ice cream is hard to come by in other parts of the country. In business for over 100 years, Mikawaya makes the best ice cream creations. With classic flavors like mango, strawberry, green tea and red bean for only $1, your ice cream fix will soon be curbed. If you really want to splurge, lay down $1.25 and taste their Mochilato (mochi+ gelato). There are many imitators out there, but none even come close to the tradition of Mikawaya.
Mikawaya, 118 Japanese Village Plaza Mall (at 1st Street); 213-624-1681.
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